April 4, 2006 5:47 AM PDT

Linux lab looks to bridge dueling interfaces

BOSTON--Open Source Development Labs is previewing work that attempts to make life easier for software companies by bridging GNOME and KDE, the two competing graphical interfaces most widely used with Linux.

The effort, called Portland Project, began showing its first software tools on Tuesday in conjunction with this week's LinuxWorld Conference & Expo here. Using them, a software company can write a single software package that works using either of the prevailing graphical interfaces.

LinuxWorld Boston 2006 roundup

OSDL and a cooperating group called Freedesktop.org, which is already working on unifying interface issues, plan to release a beta version of the software in May and version 1.0 in June. Ultimately, advocates hope that it will be part of a larger but separate effort called Linux Standard Base, which is designed to make the operating system easier for software companies to use.

Portland Project began as a meeting among developers at OSDL in Portland, Ore., in December, organizers said. KDE and the GNOME Foundation both endorsed the project.

Unlike Windows and Mac OS X, Linux has two major sets of graphical interfaces. This presents people with different items, such as control panels; complicates cut-and-paste operations; and requires programmers to be aware of what underpinnings they're using for elements such as dialogue boxes or pull-down menus.

It's common for software packages with both interfaces to be installed on Linux machines, enabling programs created for either to run smoothly, but that circumstance isn't guaranteed.

Portland Project is working on two ways to gloss over the differences, a set of command-line tools and an application programming interface called DAPI. OSDL, a nonprofit consortium founded in 2000 by computing-industry heavyweights and employing Linux leader Linus Torvalds, began working on desktop Linux issues in 2003.

"Portland is promising because the historical lack of uniformity across KDE and GNOME has made it difficult for ISVs to build a single application that integrates well in both environments," Linux Standard Base chairman Ian Murdock said in an interview. But, he added, the Portland Project is just one step of many that are needed.

The Linux Standard Base plans to add the software libraries of KDE and GNOME, called Qt and Gtk, respectively, to version 3.1 of its standard. That version is scheduled to debut in early May, while version 3.2 due in early 2007 will incorporate the Portland Project's work, Murdock said.

See more CNET content tagged:
Open Source Development Labs, KDE, graphical interface, GNOME, Linux


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Kudos to FreeDesktop.org
FreeDesktop.org has actually contributed quite a
bit to the goal of homogeneity of the desktops.

What this article doesn't really go into is to
what the specific issues are that FreeDesktop
and the Portland Project are aiming to address.
The article also confuses the "GUI" with the
desktop environment.

For the uninitiated, the two big desktop
environments are GNOME and KDE. They are built
atop a network-transparent windowing environment
called X11 (Windows users would recognize as the
inspiration for Remote Desktop). The two
environments are based on two different
libraries which are used to render the user
interface components -- so they have a somewhat
different look and feel. Where they differ most
greatly is outside the GUI itself and in the
services that they provide for the environment
and how and where they store the configuration
information (such as layout of menus, colors and
icons used, etc.). Applications written for
GNOME and KDE will run without an issue in
either environment.

A Desktop Environment provides more than just
the GUI management, but also virtual filesystems
(Windows has this notion, though it's not
extensively used), object hosting (think
components like ActiveX), media services
(architected very different than Windows),
notification management, high-level IPC (think
ARexx, if you remember that), etc. The
environment typically presents the configuration
applets (control panels) used to configure the
desktop environment (like Windows explorer) and
system (services, printers, etc).

Some of the things FreeDesktop has worked out
are a standard way of representing the desktop
menu layout (think "Start Menu" in Windows) so
that KDE and GNOME don't use redundant methods
for representing them. The same goes with icon
themes, and association of file types with
applications (previously, KDE and GNOME stored
this information in two different places in two
different formats).

While minor, that sort of thing meant that
installing a vendor-supplied application meant
installing two sets of configuration files in
two different locations. FreeDesktop's solution
not only standardizes how the information is
stored, but does so in a fashion that is
completely application-neutral (i.e., things
other than KDE and GNOME could use it).

There are still other minor points of
discontinuity between the two, but the two
dominant platforms are rapidly closing in on
agreement on all of them.
Posted by Zymurgist (397 comments )
Reply Link Flag
And kudos to Epileptic Manatee
Very informative post. Thank you.
Posted by (54 comments )
Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.